I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Saturday, September 02, 2023

AD&D DMG cover to cover - part VII, pages 84-100 (EXPERIENCE and THE CAMPAIGN)

We´ve been reading the original DMG - the ultimate DM book! - but from a B/X and OSR point-of-view.

Check the other parts of this series here.

Today we discuss EXPERIENCE and THE CAMPAIGN!

— Government Forms 89
— Royal And Noble Titles 89


A small section that still manages to be overly complicated. I remember people saying how easy "1 GP = 1 XP" was. Well, that is not even half the story. 

The system is byzantine and impossible to memorize, but it starts by suggesting some DM fiat: "The judgment factor is inescapable with respect to weighting experience for the points gained from slaying monsters and/or gaining treasure. You must weigh the level of challenge — be it thinking or fighting — versus the level of experience of the player character(s) who gained it."

XP for killing monsters comes BEFORE XP for treasure, and follows a obscure formula (here is something easier: square the number of HD and multiply by 10, add 50% per special ability - similar to Dark Fantasy Basic).

XP for treasure is not as straightforward as "1 GP = 1 XP" either: it depends on the power of the treasure's "guardian" (i.e., monster) and, again, lots of DM fiat. 

It is unclear if the guardian must be FOUGHT or if, as people often say, AD&D is about AVOIDING fights to get to the treasure (which will still give you SOME XP, but not full XP, as suggested in page 84, last paragraph).

"Treasure must be physically taken out of the dungeon or lair and turned into a transportable medium" - apparently, this requires you to physically carry treasure that is NOT transportable. Sigh.

A note on page 85 explains that this intricate system is made to avoid the "non-game boredom" of giving XP for clerics that pray, thieves that steal, etc. 

HOWEVER, acting according to your class and alignment shortens training time and allows you to level without a tutor.

Because, you see, XP is not enough for leveling: you also need to spend time and gold for TRAINING.

The time necessary to train is 1-4 weeks, according to PC behavior. In practice, just consider the AVERAGE quality of PC behavior (presumably, since the last level up) to get a rating from 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent). Of course, the text MUST be a lot more complicated than that; see for yourself.

Award experience points normally. When each character is given his or her
total, also give them an alphabetic rating — E, S, F, or P. When a character’s
total experience points indicate eligibility for an advancement in level, use the
alphabetic assessment to assign equal weight to the behavior of the character
during each separate adventure — regardless of how many or how few
experience points were gained in each. The resulting total is then divided by the
number of entries (adventures) to come up with some number from 1 to 4. This
number indicates the number of WEEKS the character must spend in study and/
or training before he or she actually gains the benefits of the new level. Be
certain that all decimals are retained, as each .145 equals a game day.

The cost is 1500 gp per level per week, which means the thief might not have enough gold to get to level 2 even with enough XP and "good behavior" (this can happen to other characters that need to train for multiple weeks).

Training costs become negligible on higher levels, but time is always important, which is nice, as it suggests rotating characters.


A campaign is a collection of adventures.

The section starts on world-building. Starting a campaign is easy enough:
This will typically result in your giving them a brief background, placing them in a settlement, and stating that they should prepare themselves to find and explore the dungeon/ruin they know is nearby. As background you inform them that they are from some nearby place where they were apprentices learning their respective professions, that they met by chance in an inn or tavern and resolved to journey together to seek their fortunes in the dangerous environment, and that, beyond the knowledge common to the area (speech, alignments, races, and the like), they know nothing of the world. 
Placing these new participants in a small settlement means that you need do  only minimal work describing the place and its inhabitants. Likewise, as player characters are inexperienced, a single dungeon or ruins map will suffice to begin play. 
Eventually, as player characters develop and grow powerful, they will explore
and adventure over all of the area of the continent. When such activity
begins, you must then broaden your general map still farther so as to
encompass the whole globe. More still! You must begin to consider seriously
the makeup of your entire multiverse — space, planets and their satellites,
parallel worlds, the dimensions and planes. What is there? why? can
participants in the campaign get there? how? will they? Never fear! By the
time your campaign has grown to such a state of sophistication, you will be
ready to handle the new demands.

Great advice!

You can create your own setting, use an existing one as written, or alter it. 

"Until you are sure of yourself, lean upon the book. Improvisation might be fine later, but until you are completely relaxed as the DM, don’t run the risk of trying to “wing it” unless absolutely necessary.".

I like it - as I think improvisation is often over-rated.

Starting adventures/dungeons should be balanced against the players - not too easy, not too hard. Things get harder as the players and their characters advance in experience.

The testing grounds for novice adventurers must be kept to a difficulty factor which encourages rather than discourages players. If things are too easy, then there is no challenge, and boredom sets in after one or two games. Conversely, impossible difficulty and character deaths cause instant loss of interest.
The general idea is to develop a dungeon of multiple levels, and the deeper adventurers go, the more difficult the challenges become. [...] This same concept applies to areas outdoors as well, with more and terrible monsters occurring more frequently the further one goes away from civilization.

It is no exaggeration to state that the fantasy world builds itself, almost as if the milieu actually takes on a life and reality of its own. [...] the interaction of judge and players shapes the bare bones of the initial creation into something far larger. It becomes fleshed out, and adventuring breathes life into a make-believe world. Similarly, the geography and history you assign to the world will suddenly begin to shape the character of states and peoples. Details of former events will become obvious from mere outlines of the past course of things. Surprisingly, as the personalities of player characters and non-player characters in the milieu are bound to develop and become almost real, the nations and states and events of a well-conceived AD&D world will take on even more of their own direction and life.

This whole section is full of great DM advice!

CLIMATE & ECOLOGY contains some common sense and useful ideas, in the vein of "Gygaxian Naturalism" - dragons are not just archetypal monsters, but part of a food chain, etc.

TYPICAL INHABITANTS describes non-adventurers briefly; nothing interesting here.

SOCIAL CLASS AND RANK explains that these things depend on the setting, giving some examples.

Government Forms describe exactly that: autocracy, bureaucracy, confederacy, democracy, etc. Here is my own twist on the subject.

Royal And Noble Titles, likewise, describe a nobiliary hierarchy, both European (from emperors to knights and archbishops to priors, etc.) and Asian (including Maharajas, Sultans, Caliphs, and Khans).

THE TOWN AND CITY SOCIAL STRUCTURE is a (somewhat more interesting) description of how urban environments are governed.

ECONOMICS tries to explain the absurd prices you find in D&D. "The prices and costs of the game are based on inflationary economy, one where a sudden influx of silver and gold has driven everything well beyond its normal value." Yeah, okay.

The next justification sounds more reasonable: "It is simply more heroic for players to have their characters swaggering around with pouches full of gems and tossing out gold pieces than it is for them to have coppers." 

The reason for prices is the "rule of cool"; it doesn't have to make much sense.

DUTIES, EXCISES, FEES, TARIFFS, TAXES, TITHES, AND TOLLS are created "to take excess monies away from player characters". 

I had noticed this tendency of "give lots of treasure and then take it away" before, but here the author makes it explicit. This happens not only with taxes, but training, expenses, etc.

Which feel redundant and boring to me - why not just give them less treasure? 

Remember the "rule of cool"? in the previous section? Well, when did you see Conan or Elric paying taxes? Or tutors, for that matter - especially after they started adventuring?

A whole page on taxes, but "critical hit tables are too complicated". The DMG is like that sometimes.

MONSTER POPULATIONS AND PLACEMENT insists on the "Gygaxian Naturalism" but allows for a “Disneyland” atmosphere with random disjointed monsters if you want (although this is not recommended for long campaigns).

This section contains good advice too, followed by a few examples. 

Certain pre-done modules might serve in your milieu, and you should consider their inclusion in light of your overall schema. If they fit smoothly into the diagram of your milieu, by all means use them, but always alter them to include the personality of your campaign so the mesh is perfect. Likewise, fit monsters and magic so as to be reasonable within the scope of your milieu and the particular facet of it concerned. Alter creatures freely, remembering balance. Hit dice, armor class, attacks and damage, magical and psionic powers are all mutable; and after players become used to the standard types a few ringers will make them a bit less sure of things. Devising a few creatures unique to your world is also recommended.

PLACEMENT OF MONETARY TREASURE contains some vague, common sense advice on the matter. It also provides another explanation for the (low) value of precious metals: they become harder to carry.

PLACEMENT OF MAGIC ITEMS shows the author explicit regrets on giving away too many magic items, something that I've felt in my own games

On the other hand, “killer-dungeons” are also criticized. Balance must be found!

In any case, "you must NEVER allow random determination to dictate the inclusion of ANY meaningful magic items.".

Interesting stuff, as it suggests a complete revision of previous random tables/rules.

TERRITORY DEVELOPMENT BY PLAYER CHARACTERS deals with high-level PCs establishing strongholds and similar structures, which requires detailed maps and procures. 

This is how "the fantasy world builds itself" by "the interaction of judge and player".

Sounds incredibly fun!

I really like this section, makes me wish I had more high-level games.

PEASANTS, SERFS, AND SLAVES explains that they are always oppressed and periodically cause riots - which "the player character must suppress it as soon as possible". 

Interesting if a bit reductionist.

A SAMPLE DUNGEON describes exactly that. Well, almost - just the first three rooms. This is an excerpt of room number ONE
There are 10 moldy sacks of flour and grain stacked
here. The cloth is easily torn to reveal the contents. If all of them are
opened and searched, there is a 25% probability that the last will have
YELLOW MOLD in it, and handling will automatically cause it to burst
and all within 10’ must save versus poison or die in 1 turn.
So... yeah. Not a great example IMO. No "killer dungeons", remember? Right.

But this section contains icons and wandering monster tables, so a good format at least to help you create your own dungeons.

THE FIRST DUNGEON ADVENTURE describes a reasonably lengthy example of actual play - an expedition into the sample dungeon. It goes through many dungeon procedures that "The Adventure" skipped (well, listening is ALSO there for no apparent reason): doors, traps, hearing, etc., the most important being dungeon movement and the duration of various activities.

This part is particularly interesting:
You may use either of two methods to allow discovery of the mechanism which operates the portal:
1. You may designate probability by a linear curve, typically with a d6. Thus,
a secret door is discovered 1 in 6 by any non-elf, 2 in 6 by elven or halfelven
characters, each character being allowed to roll each turn in
checking a 10’ × 10’ area. This also allows you to have some secret doors
more difficult to discover, the linear curve being a d8 or d10.
2. You may have the discovery of the existence of the secret door enable
player characters to attempt to operate it by actual manipulation, i.e. the
players concerned give instructions as to how they will have their
characters attempt to make it function: “Turn the wall sconce.”, “Slide it
left.”, “Press the small protrusion, and see if it pivots.”, “Pull the chain.”
It is quite acceptable to have a mixture of methods of discovering the operation of secret door.
So both "player skill" and "character skill" are acceptable - or a combination of both, which I like. This is something I addressed here.

The example continues on and it is reasonably useful for someone learning RPGs. It contains some curious rulings of varying quality - the MU tries to stomp on a spider and rolls well enough, but the DM decides the spider attacks first and suffers no damage...

I also noticed that the PCs are exceptionally lucky in their rolls, which shouldn't be assumed.

I like the fact that the DM spells out some chances ("The halfling at the top of the stack has a 1 in 6 chance of slipping and bringing you all down") while hiding other rolls ("Rolling a d6 behind a screen so that the players cannot see the result which would normally indicate if noise were detected or not") and simulating another ("DM: (Rolling a few dice behind the screen several times, knowing that tapping won’t show anything, as the secret door is 10’ above the floor:)".

Overall, a decent example of play.

What have we learned today?
My favorite part here is the campaign-building advice. Sensible, easy, organic stuff. I was pleased to see Gygax reconsidering the amount of magical items available, and both approaches to the "PC skill versus player skill" approach. I am not a fan of the experience rules or the explanations on economy, but I can see that training could have some upsides, like introducing relevant NPCs and downtime events.


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  1. My notes, pt1. I'm not quite as displeased as you are with the experience systems - it's all a bit baroque but I think the reasoning behind the systems is decently sound. The only part that makes me a little uncomfortable is awarding players an E, S, F, P rating - I think it skews the game towards trying to play in a manner the DM finds acceptable too heavily.

    Experience - Gary recommends awarding less XP for monsters not challenging enough for the player characters. I suppose if you've got very timid players who are "optimizing the fun out of the game" by slowly grinding through low level content, this could be a good system to have in your pocket to encourage them towards appropriate challenges.

    "All items or creatures sold for gold pieces prior to the awarding of experience points for an adventure must be considered as treasure taken, and the gold pieces received for the sale as the total treasure taken" - is this intended to mean that the players only get XP for treasure when it's turned into currency? Definitely implies that you'll need a settlement with lots of available coin for the players.

    Experience points value of monsters - the base XP and special ability XP columns are similar to basic, but the addition of awarding XP per HP can easily double the XP value of a given monster. This shifts the focus a little bit towards fighting monsters compared to basic where the expectation is that treasure provides ¾ of all experience. Perhaps with the higher monster XP and XP for magic items, treasure accounts for 50-60 percent of XP?

    Special bonus award to experience points - touches on the "how do low level characters catch up to higher level ones without dying over and over" problem. Awarding XP for characters that are brought back to life is a very strange way to solve this potential problem.

    Gaining experience levels - ok, here we go, the section on training. To my mind this is one of the truly Gygaxian AD&Disms that probably work great in practice (for both siphoning off player wealth and building NPC relationships) but appear very strange to read.

    Characters not leveling "automatically" reminds me of the "milestone leveling" aka DM fiat leveling that many groups use for 5e. I'm initially a little hostile to this whole concept, as one of the things that brought me to the OSR is the more "unbiased" system of GP for XP which takes into account only the ends, not the means.

    Both class and alignment are factored into the E, S, F, P rating system. I do kind of like having a system that incentivizes the roleplaying of alignment - a lawful good fighter player may want to execute that prisoner that's sure to betray them later, but the rating system might drive them to letting them go.

    The 1,500 gp / week (at the CHEAPEST!) formula is pretty costly, but the book does at least give you an out by suggesting that tutors might accept some combination of gold and service. To me this implies any given starter town needs tutors (of all classes) with hooks that point towards adventuring sites.

    It's a little wild to me that every player character needs to go find a higher level NPC of the same class in the campaign environs in order to train - it requires the DM build a specific kind of world populated by NPCs with class levels who are sitting around training apprentices (and making bank) which is both a fair bit of work for the DM and requires a specific demographic approach to classed NPCs - low magic it is not. However, it also goes a long way in defining the PC's place in the world and tying them to NPCs which is very nice.

    1. One thing I've noticed with Old School d&d campaigns (AD&D especially) is that you really need a good sized town or city available in the campaign (not just a village) for the PCs to get access to things like someone who can make plate armor, a place to sell rare and expensive treasures, thieves guilds, access to high level trainers, etc. It took me a while to realize this as many old modules are set starting in small settlements on the edge of civilization (Hommlet, for example).

      Back on the subject of training - training cost represents one of the major ways in which gold is extracted from players in AD&D - training at 1,500-6,000 gp per level, character upkeep at 100 gp / level / month, henchmen upkeep at the same and stronghold upkeep at 1% cost of stronghold per month hits the PCs effectively at both low and high level. Clearly Gygax thought keeping the PCs hungry for treasure was important (and I agree), but he elected not to reinvent the economy from OD&D such that basic equipment was simply more expensive. I think a house rule that drains PC wealth is a critical addition to keeping a Basic campaign running long term. The OD&D rule of 1% of total XP in GP (per month) might be a good starting point, but I also love the Jeff's Game Blog Carousing rules (spend GP on partying for XP, chance of mishap).

      The Campaign - Gygax certainly isn't telling prospective DMs that it'll be easy here! The advice to start in a settlement with a known dungeon nearby is classic and good for keeping the initial scope minimized. Player Characters knowing nothing of the world when starting is decidedly old school, very different from the whole "integrating the character into the setting" via backgrounds that is often lauded in modern d&d.

      The Campaign continued - expansion into the wilderness involves creating a continent scale map, rough political divisions, notes on terrain features, "indications of the distribution of creature types" and some plans on what conflicts are likely to occur. A very wargame type approach. Nothing yet on "quests" or "big bads". Also surprisingly nothing on culture, gods or history, and not much about local sized wilderness mapping. I haven't seen a reference to a six mile hex anywhere.

      Setting things in motion - some basic advice on setting up a Hamlet or village - put regular people and "different and unusual types" and a few NPCs. Nothing about setting up a larger settlement.

      The "testing grounds" - not too hard, but not too easy, so that interest is maintained. "The general idea is to develop a dungeon of multiple levels and the deeper adventurers go, the more difficult the challenges become." Very familiar advice here - nice and ready to grasp, and well facilitated using encounter tables by dungeon level. "The same concept applies to areas outdoors as well, with more and terrible monsters occurring more frequently the further one goes away from civilization" - this bit requires a bit more work, as the wilderness table monster selections are agnostic to any sort of "distance" from civilization in terms of what can show up, though there is a system for modifying frequency of encounters when close to civilization. Maybe terrain type has some correspondence with difficulty as well.

    2. Great notes as always!

      I think the XP part, both evaluation and training, has merit - I just think the implementation is too convoluted, while at the same time recommending lots of DM fiat (on how to handle treasure, monster XP, etc.). Likewise, giving XP per HD AND HP is redundant IMO.

      This is a common theme in the DMG, it seems. I feel the same about treasure: instead of just giving out less treasure, you add tariffs, taxes, training, and ALSO suggest the DM to ignore random treasure tables occasionally.

      The dungeon level/wilderness thing deserves a post of its own; I think using a single table for wilderness was a bit of an oversight.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Fixing my comment

      On the XP system - I don't love rating the performance of each character, but I could see getting used to it.

      I think the whole "reduce XP by ratio of monster HD vs character level" system is one of those "fix a specific problem in your game" type systems that Gary probably used once or never. I don't think this should normally be in play unless your players are optimizing the fun (the risk) out of the game by staying in low level areas.

      I agree that XP per HD + XP per HP is a little annoying - my guess is that at some point Gary wanted to increase the amount of XP characters got for vanquishing monsters but he wanted to keep the XP to HD chart similar to OD&D or something like that.

      I kind of like the boom/bust nature of PC finances, though the systems to drain their coffers aren't set up for smooth easy use.

  2. Gygax talks about the campaign world taking on a life of its own here - I think this sort of thing is what every DM should aspire to, but getting the amount of prep right such that the DM can build deeper levels, wider wilderness and further, larger settlements can be overwhelming.

    Climate & ecology - the old "Gygaxian naturalism" section. Actually fairly sensible advice about creating a justifiable food chain to support the apex predator type monsters in the wilderness, though with less emphasis on dungeons. "Dungeons likewise must be balanced and justified, or else wildly improbable and caused by some supernatural entity which keeps the whole thing running" reminds me of the cosmic spider type creature lurking at the bottom of Stonehell. Seems like many in the OSR have moved away from this type "naturalism" for dungeons specifically.

    Typical inhabitants - no 1d4 HP for Normal Humans here - farming males with 2-7 HP are decently beefy - easily a match for a level 1 fighter in a tavern-room brawl.

    Social class and rank - a nice list of government forms and titles of nobility, though not much on structure, which I suppose is beyond the scope of the DMG.

    Economics - something about an inflationary economy and a justification for using the "gold standard". By implication Gygax is comparing to the "real world"

    Duties, excuses, fees, tariffs, taxes, tithes and tolls - this is one of those sections that people cite when complaining about AD&D. "I play D&D escape real life, I don't want a tax simulator!" I can see why - the system described seems realistic but unwieldy. I could see money changing or banking charging a fee, or if the PCs decide to become traders and they're entering a foreign port, but otherwise I'd say most taxes can be covered under the upkeep systems on page 25 (100 gp/level/month).

    Monster population and placement - more Gygaxian naturalism, but room is still kept for the "funhouse" approach to monster placement. Good notes about clearing out monsters to establish a stronghold, though I wouldn't mind a more specific system. This reiterates Gygax's approval of using "pre-done" modules (he says the same about using a pre-built world), which is kind of surprising.

    There's a brief note on the potential for player conflicts, which touches on the wargame roots "the multitude of planes and alignments are given for such a purpose (giving the world structure), although they also serve to provide fresh places to adventure and establish conflicts between player characters as well"

    1. Good notes about altering modules to suit your campaign and creating your own monsters so players don't get too familiar. Also, the basic borderlands setup with monsters pressing in is described as a typical campaign setup, along with some recommendations about keeping track of monsters on a key and no longer encountering them once slain.

      Placement of monetary treasure - good basic advice here: don't give too much away at first, treasure should often be hidden, treasure can be difficult to transport. The note about copper giving way to silver, silver to gold etc rings a little false considering how worthless copper is when a PC needs thousands of gold to level. Gygax unknowingly recommending the silver standard?! Notes about the treasure tables values representing the maximum number of creatures guarding always strikes me as a little odd - why not simply adjust the tables such that the average rolled value corresponds to the average number of creatures? This section could have used an example of distribution to bridge the gap between intentional placement and following the tables

      Placement of magic items - Gygax does some critique of the Monty Haul style game here - a critique Gygax seemed to be making often in this time period. The note about not blindly following the random treasure tables is very interesting - the same advice should probably be applied to Basic (and most other old D&D). Some good examples of low-level appropriate magic items given, also having 1 in 5 or 1 in 10 treasures include magic items seems about right.

      The bit critiquing the "killer dungeon" is a little rich coming from the writer of Tomb of Horrors, though I think a distinction can be made between the campaign play that Gygax is talking about here and competitive tournament modules using pre-gen characters.

      Good note about monsters using magic items as part of their natural defenses.

      Territory Development by Player Characters - Domain play! Or at least, domain establishment. I'm very interested to see what we've got here.

      The steps in this section are slightly baroque, but generally useable. I like the bits about changing encounter frequency based on the development of civilization. Using the "inhabited" encounter tables if you've got a road is also nice. I like the note about eventually attracting inhabitants to the safety (?) of the area. I would have liked a basic note about taxation, presumably players faced with 1% stronghold upkeep per month will be looking to cover that cost (and those of the patrols, etc) by taxing the populace.

      Peasants, serfs and slaves - I suppose if you've got a lawful evil character oppressing and enslaving the local populace you might need a revolt now and then.

    2. "Gygaxian naturalism" is certainly a bit lacking in some popular OSR modules. Not that DMG is of any help here: the sample dungeons seems to be more random than revolving a central theme or ecology.

      The author has a sound view of the copper/silver/gold progression. Too he missed his own advice and didn't use the silver (or even cooper) standard!

      Domain play sounds like lots of fun, I hope I get to use this in the future.

  3. Last bit of this section:

    A sample dungeon - the map and key go a really long way explaining what a dungeon should look like. We've got 39 rooms that fit on one sheet of graph paper with 3 ways down to the next level - a 5 room dungeon this is not. We've got an underground stream, hidden treasure, hidden threats, a secret door (with clues!) and best of all a map!

    The First Dungeon Adventure - including duplicitous NPCs to adventure with the party is a Gygax staple. I like the note about having multiple maps (an overall map of the area, map of ground level and map of level 1).

    Movement and Searching - the list of suggested time requirements is nice. Good reminder not to overdue how much time simple actions take.

    Detection of Unusual Circumstances, Traps and Hearing Noise - if your players are too cautious, mock them, and then kill them with silent monsters. Very 1979.

    Doors - the focus on using stuck doors makes more sense when assuming that doors are 8' wide allowing 3 characters at a time to roll for opening. Per the PHB, characters can keep trying open doors at no penalty, though it takes an unspecific amount of time and makes noise. My inclination would be to allow 1-4 characters to try and open a door simultaneously for the initial attempt, after which the characters are assumed to open it, though a turn is used.

    concealed doors vs secret doors - Secret door operation can be discoverable by either rolling or by narrating character action - turning wall sconces, pressing a protrusion, etc. Good solid explanation here.

    Return to the first dungeon adventure - really highlights the back and forth conversation between players and DM that is the core of old D&D. I like the way the DM narrates the death of the gnome - telling the survivors what they see, without revealing too much.